My wife and I did an overnighter on the McKenzie River and got one good mostly rain-free day for a couple of short day hikes.
First, we hiked the short two-mile stretch of the McKenzie River Trail to the Blue Pool, ever limpid and startlingly blue in its lush forest setting. The place is marked as Tamolitch Falls on topo maps. The river bed was invaded by a lava flow from Belknap Crater 1,600 years ago, and the McKenzie worked to regain its own valley by finding channels both above and below the lava layers. Historically, the 50-foot falls could be seen for about six months a year, but this all changed in 1963, when the Carmen Reservoir was constructed below Koosah Falls. A diversion tunnel takes much of the McKenzie’s flow through a mountain ridge to the Smith Reservoir on the Smith River, part of the Eugene Water and Electric Board’s Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project. Now what you see is a dry falls although a couple of years ago, at the beginning of a maintenance project on the reservoirs, the Eugene Water and Electricity Board released large volumes of water from the Carmen Reservoir and recreated the falls for a short period.
Then it was on to the Waterfalls Loop Hike. We parked at Sahalie Falls, admired its plunge, and then hiked downriver along some stunning stretches of the river before arriving at Koosah Falls, which offers only one clear vantage point from the east bank. In September, the falls look considerably less substantial than when in full flow, dropping in two separated plunges. We then hiked down to the Carmen Reservoir, now drained for the five-year maintenance project (Between the reservoir and Tamolitch Pool, the McKenzie flows under the lava for three miles).
We joined the McKenzie River Trail to hike back up along the river, and found ourselves alone – everyone else seemed to be leaving their cars for a short stroll to a falls viewpoint and then getting back in. You can get a good view of the waterfall ("Lower Sahalie Falls") between Sahalie and Koosah from the west side of the river. Later, a baby garter snake wriggled across the trail. Above Sahalie, a new footbridge crosses the river, while the old single log crossing lies forlornly stranded.
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